Matt Heath: Happy birthday to the Herald - 160 years old today

Publish Date
Monday, 13 November 2023, 8:17AM

The Herald is 160 years old today. That’s 1120 in dog years. I am proud to have been writing here for nine years. That’s nearly 6 per cent of the entire time the paper has been in publication, which is scary. It also makes me almost qualified to pay tribute to this fine old institution on its most impressive of birthdays.

I am hugely grateful to whoever it was at the New Zealand Herald who asked me to write a weekly column all those years ago. Was the Herald forced to take me on in some kind of attempted radio/print synergy brought about by the merger of APN New Zealand and The Radio Network? No one knows. No one cares.

What I do know is that I had pursued many things in my life before I was offered the Herald gig. I’d made TV shows,a movie and released two albums, I have a breakfast show on Radio Hauraki, and I have attained my 25-metre “confidence in the water” certificate from Moana Pool in Dunedin.

But such is the mana of this publication, I believe getting a column in the Herald was the thing that made my dad the most proud. Well, actually, the third-most after my two kids (but their mother did most of the work there, so I can’t really take credit for that).

My father’s approval of having a son writing a weekly column in the Herald was likely based on two key points. Firstly, he and his friends mostly don’t hate it, and secondly, up until that point, he wasn’t sure I could read or write. It is a testament to the New Zealand Herald that being allowed to be involved on a weekly basis can redeem you after a lifetime of failures and indiscretions.

Sadly, I soon lost my dad’s trust when I wrote a 750-word column on his habit of wearing matching blue jockeys, undies and singlets. Actually, I need to post a retraction here pertaining to that article. Dad doesn’t tuck his singlet into his pulled-up undies and walk around the house, as I erroneously reported in that 2022 column.

Growing up in Dunedin, my childhood newspaper was the mighty Otago Daily Times. I loved it mainly for the comic strips and because I once featured on the front page being rescued by a fireman from a storm drain.
The first time I heard of the New Zealand Herald, I became enraged. I took it personally that the Herald was claiming in its name to be the paper of all New Zealanders. Our beloved ODT was only claiming dominion over Otago. It felt like this big, fancy Auckland newspaper was lauding itself over us southerners.

Years later, I discovered the ODT and the Herald were in bed together. The two papers shared resources. It wasn’t until I travelled overseas that I understood the truth to the New Zealand Herald’s claim of being New Zealand’s newspaper. Thanks to its colossal readership and our small population, the Herald has to be everything to everyone.

In London, if you swing miles to the left, you pretend to read the Guardian; if you swing a little to the right, you might grab the the Daily Telegraph. When I was over there I would read the Sun due to their amusing front page headlines, like “Woman Eats Entire Fridge and Dies”. In the UK and in many other countries, you know the political leaning of your papers.

Here, the New Zealand Herald has opinions from across the nation’s political spectrum. As a result, social media battlers on the left will tell you it’s a far-right mouthpiece, while social media battlers on the right simultaneously tell you it’s a communist manifesto. Unsurprisingly for people posting on social media, both sides are wrong.

There are angles taken in the Herald that make me mad; there are other ones that make me happy. There is one particularly vacuous columnist in here who I cannot stand. There are bunch I really enjoy. That’s the way it should be.

Our fine national paper has been with us through wars, riots, tragedies, disasters, victories, losses, scandals, three pandemics and 41 Prime Ministers. I am still amazed and grateful every time I see a column of mine printed here, and the NZ Herald app will always be my first port of call in the morning.

Happy birthday, the New Zealand Herald - 160 years young today.

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